Barefoot Girls by Tara McTiernan
When her hometown newspaper reviews Hannah O’Brien’s newly released novel, the nature of her book is called into question when the reviewer suggests it is a memoir depicting her neglectful alcoholic mother – Keeley O’Brien Cohen, the most beloved of the Barefoot Girls - a little too accurately for fiction, citing rumors rather than sources.
Deeply hurt and betrayed, Keeley cuts Hannah out of her life. Desperate, Hannah does everything she can to apologize and explain, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the rest of Hannah’s life starts to unravel, pushing her to risk her engagement to Daniel, the one man who had been able to scale the high walls around her heart. At the eleventh hour, the Barefoot Girls are able to convince Keeley to send Hannah the keys to the Barefooter house, the home and heart of their friendship. Barred from their clubhouse since she was twelve, Hannah grabs the chance to visit the little shack filled with memories and perched at the tip of Captain’s Island in the Great South Bay on Long Island, New York.
As Hannah battles to come to terms with her equally blessed and troubled childhood and understand her mother and her sister-close friends, she’s confronted with the power of forgiveness and the dangers of holding on to the past.
About the AuthorA voracious reader known to complete a book in a single sitting, Tara McTiernan grew up in Riverside, Connecticut where the librarians learned that she had a terrible addiction to certain books - re-reading them and continually checking them out until her parents had to be called in and limits set to the number of times she was allowed to take out a book. "Other children would like to have a chance to read this book, too," she was told to her great consternation. To this day, there are certain books Tara will not lend out to others as she has to have them on hand at all times.
Around the same time as the library-lending--debacle, Tara started writing and found her true calling. The only problem was that she was told that, unless she was ridiculously lucky along the lines of a lottery winner, she would never make a living as a writer. So, she dabbled in various careers, never finding her way back until her forties, when she became obstreperous about her writing, refusing to back down again. The result is her novel, Barefoot Girls, as well as several published short stories in literary magazines. She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband, Ash, and their collection of dog-eared books. For more on Tara and her writing, visit her blog at http://taramctiernanfiction.blogspot.com/
"Hannah's cell played “Under the Boardwalk”, her mother’s programmed song, the song of the Barefooters and Captain’s Island, her childhood summer home.
Answer it? Read? It was close to five, so her mother would have already had her first drink. The first drink was okay, it was the one that made her mother cheerful, not maudlin or paranoid as the subsequent ones sometimes did.
She flipped open her phone. “Hi Mom!”
“How could you?” The voice on the other end was not the cheerful and still-sensible voice of one drink. It was sloppy and loose with lots of expensive wine, the kind her stepfather Ben kept in large supply for his beautiful and volatile younger shiksa wife. Ben’s response to any criticism of his wife’s drinking was, “She’s an artist of life - she feels! What does it matter if she needs a drink or two?” He drank, too, but in moderation.
“How could you?” her mother repeated. “The first time I read the review, I thought, I must be going crazy. I’m imagining things.” Keeley paused. “I just couldn’t believe it. You know why? It’s my daughter this stupid woman is talking about, and my daughter would never do something like that to me. My daughter loves me. She wouldn’t betray me like that.”
“Mom, what? What are-“
“Be quiet! I don’t want to hear it. You’ve done enough talking, enough spreading lies about me all over town. Do you know what? I can’t go back to Fairfield now. My life is over. I might as well climb under my bed and just live there! How could you? How could you do this to me? I admit I made mistakes, but telling lies! You’re a big liar!”
Hannah felt cold then, something shifted inside with a thud. “I did not lie about anything, what do you mean?”
Keeley made an impatient sound and took a loud slurping sip of her chardonnay. “I did not neglect you! I admit I went on a lot of dates, but you always had some kid from the neighborhood or one of the Barefooters watching you. You had more love in one day than most kids get in a year. And I did not ever ever in your life abandon you!”
Colder, shrinking sensation. How could she forget? “Oh, Mommy, but you did.”
A gasp on the other end of the line. “I…oh! How dare you!” Another smaller gasp. “How dare you? You’re…, horrible horrible! I, I, can’t even talk to you! Apologies, now that’s what I expected…but this! What? I, I can’t even talk to you. How could my own daughter, who I gave up everything for, treat me this way?”
There was a click. Hannah looked at her phone and saw the call had been ended. Her mother had hung up on her.
She put down the phone slowly, feeling the old familiar ache in her heart, one she had felt for most of her life. It was the feeling of being consciously loved and unconsciously hated in equal measure by the one person in life who is supposed to only feel a total and encompassing love for you. A mother’s love, that holier than holy love.
Hannah sat and stared at nothing, her eyes unfocused, feeling the pain throb in her chest. Minutes went by. A fly flew in through the open car window, waking Hannah from her stupor.
She opened the folded piece of newspaper in her lap and read.
It was a glowing review, speaking of Hannah’s beautifully crafted prose and the perfect pacing of her story. Beth Hiller, the reviewer, called Hannah’s Wait Another Day a “moving novel that offers deep insights into the dark side of the mother-daughter relationship”.
That was bad, “dark side”. Then she saw the last paragraph.
However talented a wordsmith, this reviewer calls into question how a child of twenty could write so astutely without plundering her own memory stores. It seems likely that the writer’s rumored childhood as a neglected and often abandoned daughter of an alcoholic parent is still a sore point, one she is working out using the medium of fiction to seek resolution. That is the novel’s ultimate weakness in the end as it never truly leaps into the realm of fiction. It would have been a better book, a great book, if Ms. O’Brien had been honest with herself and her readers and written it as a memoir.
“Oh, no,” Hannah said, her voice low and gravelly with a new stabbing pain that clenched at her throat. “Oh, Mom.”
Tears filling her eyes, she picked up her cell and dialed her mother’s number. The phone rang twice and was picked up.
Click. The connection was broken.
Hannah dialed again. Again, when the receiver was picked up, it was put back down as soon as Hannah started to speak. She tried two more times and then simply sat, the clipping in her lap, the phone in her hand, tears rolling and dripping on her shirt and into her mouth, feeling an exhaustion so deep she couldn’t find the energy to weep aloud.
The late summer evening wound down around her, the locust ratcheting chatter giving over to the gentler chorus of crickets. Then darkness settled. Hannah stirred, climbed out of her car, and went into the house. Upstairs in the bedroom, she crawled on top of her still-made bed, and fell asleep in her uniform, curled up on her side with her phone still in her hand and the clipping on the bed next to her.
Two hours later her cell rang. It wasn’t her mother’s ring, but Daniel’s – Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).”
Hannah moaned and scrambled looking for it, running her hands over the bed’s quilt, as it had fallen out of her hand in her sleep. She found its cool smooth shape.
“Hey,” she said, her voice hoarse from sleep and tears, pulling herself up to a sitting position.
“Hey sweetheart! Did I wake you up? What time is it?” Daniel said, who never knew the time, was always turned around from his flight schedule as an airline pilot. A pilot! When Hannah had first started dating Daniel, she thought it was a romantic career. Now that she knew the truth of their crazy hours and stressful lifestyle, she wondered how anyone could see it as a fun or glamorous.
“It’s,” Hannah looked over at her bedside table. “Nine-eighteen. It’s early. I’m, I… I had a really bad fight with my mom. I just had to lie down.”
“Oh, no. What happened?”
Hannah sat up a little straighter. “You read my book, right?”
“Would you say it’s a work of fiction, or a memoir?”
“Well, um…, no, it’s a novel. You’ve told me some stuff about your childhood, and, yeah, a little could have ended up in it. But it’s a novel. Why?”
“There was this book review in the Fairfield Tribune and the woman who wrote the review implied that it was a true story.”
“No! What did it say?”
Hannah lay back on her bed, leaning against the pile of decorative pillows she hadn’t removed earlier, “Oh, it was very flattering until the last paragraph. My head grew two sizes before being shrunk to the size of a peanut. She said that the book was obviously a memoir and it should have been one outright. The worst is really in one sentence; uh, let me find it.” She reached over and turned on the bedside lamp and looked all over her bed before spying the folded clipping on the floor where it had fallen. Picking it up and unfolding it, she read, “’It seems likely that the writer’s rumored childhood as a neglected and often abandoned daughter of an alcoholic parent is still a sore point, one she is working out using the medium of fiction to seek resolution’.”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Whoa.”
“That’s what my mother said. And then some.”
“Well, it’s easy to understand why she’s upset.”
“Hey! Whose side are you on?” Tears started to prick at her eyes again. What was this? Couldn’t she just stop crying?
“Yours, Hannah. Always yours,” Daniel said. “No, I meant upset with that book critic. She should sue. You could sue.”
Hannah put down the clipping and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “But Mom’s upset with me. Not the critic.” She shook her head and said, “She won’t even talk to me. She just keeps hanging up.”
“Crazy mothers. She’s probably freaking out…”
“What am I going to do?”
“She won’t talk to you, huh? Wait; why not write her a letter?”
“Do you think she’ll read it?”
Daniel laughed. “From you? Yes! She loves you. She’s just upset, justifiably upset. She’s not justified in blaming her daughter, but her being pissed off is totally normal. I’d be ballistic if someone questioned how we raised our children. When we raise them.”
Hannah gasped, remembering. “Oh, honey. She did abandon me, though. I wasn’t writing about her, but she did. I told you. The thing is, oh, it’s amazing. It’s crazy.”
The ache was back in Hannah’s throat. “She doesn’t remember.”